The Delaware Department of Justice has dropped charges against most of the remaining defendants in a murder case stemming from the 2017 takeover of James T. Vaughn Correctional Center, which left veteran corrections officer Lt. Steven Floyd dead.
The DOJ said in a statement Friday that it would only proceed with charges against three of the nine inmates still waiting to stand trial for murder and riot in Wilmington. The decision came after two trials produced just one murder conviction against seven defendants who had been tried in the case.
“Prosecutors in the Vaughn trials—who are among the department’s most experienced and who have done a remarkable job in an exceedingly difficult case—have evaluated the evidence against the remaining defendants in light of the testimony in the first two trials and the results of those trials,” the statement said.
“Prosecutors have notified the court that the state will only continue forward with charges against Roman Shankaras, Lawrence Michaels, Alejandro Rodriguez-Ortiz.”
Shankaras, who was severed from the first trial late last year, will be tried in April, the DOJ said. A trial for Michaels and Rodriguez-Ortiz is planned for October.
So far, only one defendant, Dwayne Staats, has been found guilty of felony murder charges during a Wilmington trial late last year. Staats, who admitted to planning the takeover to protest prison conditions, was also found guilty of riot, kidnapping, assault and conspiracy.
Another inmate tried alongside Staats was found not guilty of the most serious charge of murder, though he was convicted on the four lesser crimes. A third inmate, who denied any involvement in the uprising, was acquitted on all charges.
A second trial resulted in no guilty verdicts against any of the four inmates tried earlier this year.
According to the announcement, prosecutors had discussed the decision the victims, but said they had an obligation to only proceed with prosecutions where “there is a reasonable likelihood of a conviction at trial based on the evidence.”
“Obtaining a measure of justice for victims is of paramount importance in all prosecution decisions,” the statement said.
The DOJ declined to comment any further, citing the cases that remained pending.
Prosecutors in the case had described the “coordinated violence” of the 18-hour ordeal and identified Staats as having taken credit for masterminding a plot to overtake the prison’s C-Building. Under the theory of accomplice liability, prosecutors argued that the other defendants could be held criminally liable for Floyd’s murder because it was a foreseeable result of the riot.
However, attorneys familiar with the case have cited a lack of physical evidence and unreliable witness testimony as having undermined the state’s case before the juries.
Three guards and a prison counselor were taken hostage during the ordeal. Floyd, a veteran corrections officer, was found face-down and handcuffed under a pile of debris after the building was finally cleared in the early hours of Feb. 2.
In total, 18 inmates were charged in connection with the takeover, and 16 had faced murder charges.